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Local food pantry reports drop in residents served
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The Henry County Food Pantry has served about 40 percent fewer families this year than it did in 2009. Several factors have caused the decline. Above (from left), Wes Potter, Ruth Mize, Mike Hundley, Ralph Stone, Richard Stout, Doug Edwards, Zelma George and Harold Martin volunteer at a recent food distribution at the pantry in Bassett. (Contributed photo)

Monday, May 12, 2014

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

The number of families the Henry County Food Pantry has served has dropped about 40 percent since 2009 as local unemployment has declined, but other factors have caused financial pressures.

The pantry in Bassett served an average of 528 families per month in 2009, 461 in 2010, 420 in 2011, 329 in 2012 and 314 in 2013, said Sharon Mills, site director, adding that is about a 40 percent drop.

“The number of families we serve has decreased, following at a similar rate with the decrease in unemployment within the community,” she said.

At the same time, available USDA commodities have been greatly reduced, Mills said. She explained that USDA commodities are available to the pantry as a certified agency at no charge.

“In addition, food available for purchase with short life span through Feeding America has increased (in price) approximately over 200 percent,” she said.

The food pantry paid $17,000 to feed more than 6,300 families in 2009, but it paid about $24,000 to feed just more than 3,700 families in 2013, she added.

“Absolutely it’s putting a strain on our budget,” Mills said of the financial pressures. But, she added, God always provides.

Every time things look bleak, she said, “someone comes up out of the blue” with a donation. “We receive support from across the country. Most donors are, however, Henry County natives.”

The Henry County Food Pantry began operating in June 2006, and the numbers of families it served increased through 2008, Mills said.

It has an annual budget of about $25,000, she said.

“All money received (in donations ) has gone directly toward the purchase of food for families in need,” Mills said. “All board members and staff are volunteers. Facility maintenance, equipment, trucking, supplies, etc. are paid by EMI.”

Mills estimated that EMI provides in-kind contributions of more than $100,000 annually. “That’s how we can do this,” she said.

Her parents, David and Cynthia Wright, own EMI. Mills works for the company, which has several divisions. One division is EMI Imaging, which provides document management solutions. The food pantry is based at EMI.

Through Feeding America, a hunger-relief charity, the pantry is able to buy food at a big discount,generally about 19 cents per pound, and sometimes there are specials, Mills said.

It takes about 70 volunteers per month to put on a food distribution, which also includes a clothes closet, Mills said. Volunteers come from EMI, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, church and youth groups as well as others in the community and people who have been helped by the pantry and want “to help others going through the same life experiences they have faced,” she said.

The monthly food distribution is on the third Wednesday of each month from 8:30-11:30 a.m. outside EMI at 3289 Riverside Drive.

A family of four receives 50-60 pounds of food, including such things as canned foods, pizza, bread, potatoes, cakes, pies, fresh produce, spaghetti, crackers, beans, cereal, frozen meats, canned tuna and more, Mills said.

The clothes closet includes clothes, personal hygiene items and other items people may donate, such as furniture, dishes, toys and more, she and others said.

“We distribute 20,000 pounds of food per month,” Mills said. Part of that is donated by Food Lion, she added.

The April distribution resembled an assembly line.

Families first drove to a station to see if they qualified for assistance, based on need. If they did, they next drove to a station where volunteers loaded boxes of food in their vehicles. Then, if needed, they stopped at the clothes closet.

More than 60 percent of the people who are helped by the pantry go there one to three times, said volunteer Adam Wright, Mills’ brother.

He was at the first stop, collecting eligibility information. “We’re filling a gap” for those people until they can get on their feet again, he said.

Many of the other people who come to pantry are older and may have to choose between buying medicine and food, he said.

As for why he volunteers, Wright said: “When you see a task or problem and say, ‘Someone should do something about ...,’ that may mean you are the one being called to be the ‘someone’ to do something. That is why I volunteer. We are all one unforeseen emergency from being on the other side, needing help of a person that cares.”

“I am truly blessed to work along (with) such great volunteers and glad I can help families in need at the time they require a little extra help,” he added.

A short distance away, volunteer Howard Martin was loading boxes of food in vehicles.

“Martinsville-Henry County is hurting,” he said. “A lot of jobs have left the area. People are in worse shape than people really know.”

“I just love what we do,” said volunteer Carrie Jones. “I enjoy helping the community. ... We all need something at some point in time.”

At the clothes closet, Carol Brown of Bassett said she has been going to the pantry for help for the past two years.

“... I lost my husband. ... Things have been hard on me,” she said after she received food and several shirts at the distribution.

Brown gets a widow’s Social Security pension, she said, adding, “At times, it’s hard to get by on that.”

 

 
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